A Prescription For Malpractice–A Great Idea!

Cases, Laws

On June 21, 2010, the Albany Times Union reported a pilot program to address medical malpractice issues underwritten by the federal government. The New York State Department of Health will join with five New York City hospitals to implement safety measures addressing medical malpractice.

Under this program, the hospitals will develop a “culture of patient safety” with four hospitals focusing on obstetrics and one hospital focusing on general surgery. If a mistake is made, the hospitals will notify the patient or their family early on, and if appropriate, offer compensation before a lawsuit begins. The program will be monitored and the results will be evaluated by Harvard’s School of Public Health. The proponents of the program hope it will lead to the creation of a national model.

The editorial in the Albany Times Union observed that: “This is, clearly, a more thoughtful and challenging approach than, say, passing a law to cap malpractice awards…If the medical and legal fields can find a way to promote greater safety, admit and correct mistakes, and come to reasonable settlements, it would lay the foundation for, we would hope, better care, less practice of costly defensive medicine, lower malpractice insurance rates and reduced health care costs, including lower premiums on health care insurance.”

BRAVO! Instead of adopting the culture of denial and refusing to admit even obvious medical mistakes, the approach of admitting mistakes and attempting to provide answers to patients (including, when appropriate, offering compensation) is a great solution to the problem of medical malpractice.

The medical specialty of anesthesia adopted this philosophy years ago in response to rising malpractice premiums, and their premiums have remained stable ever since. Anesthesiologists served as the role model for the pilot program operated by the NYC hospitals and the Department of Health.